"Honorable Scars": Northern
Amputees and the Meaning of
Civil War Injuries
THREE YEARS after losing his arm during an infantry charge, Charles Coleman reflected on the joys of soldiering. Along with his fond remembrance of waving crowds, splendid landscapes, and idling time away by the campfire, Coleman reminisced about his final battle which left him a "one armed man for life." "Some may think this ought not to be mentioned with the pleasures of a soldiers life," he wrote, yet for Coleman, losing an arm had its own rewards. Surrounded by "kind surgeons" and "tender nurses" who tried their utmost to save his limb, he explained that "everything was procured for my comfort. … I was sent home free of expense" and later "fitted with an artificial arm." Moreover, he continued, a benevolent government "paid my board, transportation, and for my arm, and is now paying me eight dollars per month." He concluded that "the pleasure in all this consists in knowing that my feeble efforts for the benefit of our common country are remembered and appreciated and … I cannot but feel happy to think that I lost my arm in so good a cause and for so just a government."1
According to Coleman's narrative, "the great principle of love of country" led him to enlist, and supportive friends and loving parents "buoyed "him" up in the trials and hardships consequent upon the
My thanks to Michael Johnson, Dorothy Ross, Ronald Walters, Carolyn Eastman,
Tom Foster, and Rebecca Plant for their comments and suggestions.
1 Charles Coleman, competition 1, entry 49, William Oland Bourne Papers, Manu-
script Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. Hereinafter, competition
and entry numbers are cited as follows: 1:49. In the quotations taken from these
manuscripts, I have retained original emphasis and misspellings throughout.